W. E. B. Du Bois’s Apocalyptic Ambivalence

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter recovers W. E. B. Du Bois’s unpublished novel “Scorn” (1905) to argue that it announces the political and temporal posture that structures much of Du Bois’s work: apocalyptic ambivalence. Apocalyptic ambivalence registers a skeptical attitude toward history’s celebration of grand gestures and dramatic transformations and instead trains its attention on the quotidian and mundane practices that might reconstruct social arrangements and reveal an otherwise unimaginable world. In this regard, apocalyptic ambivalence is a political position and registers a temporal logic and narrative approach that Du Bois would mobilize time and time again over the course of his expansive and multimedial oeuvre. Suggesting that Du Bois often made recourse to apocalyptic tropes and rhetoric – most notably in Black Reconstruction (1935) – this chapter locates “Scorn” as a text whose formal and generic contours stage a series of thwarted and deferred apocalyptic events only to offer the fulfillment of the apocalyptic promise in the world of interracial labor and an all-black education settlement. In so doing, “Scorn” shifts the idea of apocalypse away from world-ending devastation and toward the conditions of everyday life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationApocalypse in American Literature and Culture
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781108663557
ISBN (Print)9781108493840
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Environmental Science


  • "Scorn," Black Reconstruction
  • African American fiction
  • apocalypse
  • Reconstruction
  • W. E. B. Du Bois


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